According to Air Force Magazine, the US Air Force (USAF) asked Congress to retire 150 airplanes in its fiscal 2023 budget, including 33 of its advanced F-22 Raptor fighters, but it would also hand off 100 MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft to another government agency and buy more than 82 other new airplanes, including an accelerated buy of F-15EX Eagle IIs. Its planned buy of the F-35 fighter would be pared back by 15 aircraft as the service waits for a more advanced model.
For the fiscal 2022 budget, out of 201 legacy types the Air Force asked to retire, Congress allowed the service to divest all except 42 A-10s.
As reported by Air Force Magazine, divestments requested by fiscal 2023 budget include:
The Air Force asks to retire 21 jets from the Fort Wayne, Ind., Air National Guard facility and transition the unit to 21 F-16s.
Of its 36 Block 20 F-22s—which are used for training and not configured as frontline combat jets—USAF is looking to retire 33, which will bring the F-22 fleet down to 153 airplanes. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, in an embargoed March 25 budget brief for the press, said upgrading the aircraft to full combat capability would not be cost effective given that the F-22 is set to phase out in about 10 years. He said the savings will be applied directly to the Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems, which will backfill the F-22.
The affected aircraft “are being used for training right now but are not combat capable,” Kendall said.
The USAF wants to retire 15 aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. The E-3 has become difficult to maintain, with poor mission capable rates, and Kendall said the service will make a decision “within the next several months” on whether to pursue the E-7 as a replacement.
E-8 Joint STARS
The budget plan calls for retirement of eight JSTARS in 2023 and four more in 2024.
“Basically, both the JSTARS fleet and the AWACS fleet are aging out and need to be replaced,” Kendall said.
USAF would give up 12 C-130s from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., but is buying four new C-130-J30s, for a net reduction of eight aircraft.
The Air Force is introducing new simulation and training techniques to obviate the need to re-engine or replace the T-1, relying on the T-6 for the newly-determined actual flying hours.
The Air Force is looking to retire 13 KC-135s from the Guard and Reserve, converting the losing units to the KC-46A Pegasus.
Kendall said the Air Force is “taking 100 MQ-9s and moving them to another government organization.” He did not specify the organization.
As pointed out by Air Force Magazine, the USAF’s list of new aircraft buys is a bit shorter than the list of divestitures.
After several years of requesting 48 F-35s—and being given up to 12 more each of those years by Congress—the Air Force is requesting only 33 F-35s in 2023.
There’s “a whole collection of reasons” for the reduction, Kendall said. First, the performance of the F-35’s Tech Refresh 3 update is “not what we wanted,” he said, and the TR3 is the basis for the Block 4 version of the jet, which USAF has long said it prefers to buy. The Air Force is investing some additional money in the Advanced Engine Technology Program (AETP) that could power an upgraded F-35. It sees an opportunity to accelerate the F-15EX and is continuing to put money against the Next Generation Air Dominance program. After investing in those areas, in the context of “the whole TacAir portfolio,” Kendall said the F-35 reduction makes sense.
The Air Force doubles its 2022 request, from 12 F-15EX Eagle IIs to 24 in 2023.
Kendall said Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. wants to “replace F-15Cs as quickly as possible,” and the availability of the F-15EX makes that possible. “He did say it was on the order of six months to a year in terms of time to replace those aircraft, which are aging out very quickly,” Kendall said, referring to the time it takes to transition an F-15 squadron to an F-15EX, rather than the F-35.
“It also provides some operational features,” Kendall added. “It’s really a 4.5 generation kind of an airplane, but it provides more weapons carriage capabilities, writ large, than the F-35 does. So, for the homeland defense mission, and for some defensive counterair applications overseas, it has features that are desirable, operationally.”
USAF budget director Maj. Gen. James D. Peccia said the F-15C/Ds will retire completely by fiscal 2026.
The FY’23 budget grows by $1.7 billion to start low-rate initial production of the B-21 bomber, but Peccia said he could not reveal how many aircraft that will entail.
The Air Force upped its 2022 buy from 14 to 15 in 2023, adding $220 million for the additional aircraft and getting the KC-46 rate up to where it was already planned to be. Kendall said he thinks the Air Force will likely stay with the KC-46 as it plans its next tranche of tanker buys.
The Air Force’s plan was to buy 113 HH-60W helicopters for Combat Search and Rescue, but USAF said it will “complete the buy” with 10 more aircraft in 2023.
“That’ll get us to 75 helicopters,” Peccia said. Kendall said that, given the shift in focus toward the Indo-Pacific, the need for the HH-60W diminished.
“It’s been reduced,” he said. “The scenarios we’re most worried about are not the same as they once were.” The HH-60W was a good solution in counterinsurgencies but doesn’t match the requirement against peer adversaries.
The Air Force is buying five MH-139s in fiscal 2023. Peccia said they were in the 2022 budget but had several certifications yet to be completed. Those are now done, or will be in “the next couple of months,” and the program can proceed, he said. The goal remains to buy 80 of the Gray Wolf helos.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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